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Musk tells Twitter advertisers: You're welcome back, but don't make demands

Meanwhile, available data suggests biggest spenders have largely stayed away from Twitter 2.0, er... X Corp

Updated Elon Musk took to the stage at an advertising conference yesterday to try to reassure attendees that Twitter was a safe place to serve ads, while also warning the biz won't bow to pressure from advertisers who want to dictate its behavior.

Speaking with Linda Yaccarino, chairman of global advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal, Musk reportedly (there don't appear to be videos available of the talk at this point) said freedom of speech at Twitter was paramount, and the company was willing to lose money if it meant protecting that right.

"We're trying to achieve here a sensible middle ground, or we're trying to satisfy a range of things, which is how to ensure the public has their voice… but also that you're able to serve your brands and improve the perception of your brands, and your sales as well," Musk reportedly said. "But it is not cool to say what Twitter will do," the billionaire added.

Please come back, we swear we've changed …

The early days at Musk's Twitter were marked by an exodus of advertisers, who were responsible for some 90 percent of Twitter's revenue before Musk's October takeover. Multiple major advertising agencies urged their clients to pause Twitter ads in November of last year, citing concerns that the platform wouldn't be able to ensure brand safety amid the unbanning of far-right trolls and a spike in hate speech shortly after Twitter got its new owner.

Musk even opted to publicly call out some advertisers, asking if Apple hated "free speech in America" due to its advertising pause on the social media site, which has since ended. Twitter attempted to lure advertisers back in December with incentives like spend matching, but it's unclear how much of an effect that's had.

According to Musk's recent BBC interview, most of Twitter's advertisers have returned, though third-party data doesn't necessarily back that up: As of January Twitter's daily revenue was down by more than 40 percent, with much of that loss attributable to the departure of advertisers. Musk also claimed to the BBC that Twitter was at a break-even point, though without offering anything to suggest that's actually the case.

A look at Twitter's advertising spending as of February by Vox found that more than half of Twitter's top 1,000 advertisers have yet to return. Of Twitter's top 10 advertising partners, only six still serve ads through Twitter.

Citing data through the end of Q1, market intelligence firm Sensor Tower told The Wall Street Journal that 37 of the top 100 pre-Musk Twitter advertisers had left the platform and have yet to return. Of those top 100, 24 remaining had reduced their ad spending by some 80 percent since Musk took over.

… Just step around the hate speech

When pushed on Twitter's hate speech issues and content moderation concerns, Musk reiterated what he's been saying since shortly after buying Twitter: "Freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach." 

"You won't find [a negative or hateful] tweet unless you specifically seek it out, which is no different than the rest of the internet," Musk said in November.

Musk told Yaccarino that hateful content on Twitter won't be amplified or recommended to people, but outside of violating Twitter's shrinking list of what it classifies as hateful conduct, it doesn't appear the platform will scrub such rhetoric from its servers.

It's also not entirely clear that Twitter is following through on its own assertions that it will not promote hate speech. According to an analysis of Twitter's recommendation algorithm and content delivered to the "For You" feed of recommended content, hate speech was regularly promoted in the recommended feed when a single account associated with an extremist group was followed. If Twitter is trying to get rid of reactionary echo chambers, it doesn't appear to be succeeding.

Twitter disbanded its Trust and Safety Council, a group of 100 civil rights organizations who signed on to help tackle hate speech and child exploitation on the site, in December, claiming that the Council wasn't the best way to ensure Twitter was safe.

That move may have been among the factors that led to German officials saying there were "sufficient indications of failures" in policing hate speech on Twitter, which could result in a fine of up to €50 million. The EU has also expressed concerns that Twitter may be violating its content moderation rules under the Digital Services Act. 

Added to this, the US Federal Trade Commission has expressed concerns that Twitter's massive job cuts (the company is reportedly down to around 1,500 people from nearly 8,000 pre-Musk) may mean it can't properly moderate content. And Twitter may be in danger of violating its consent decree with the FTC that requires the company to notify the regulatory body before making any product changes.

Musk told Yaccarino that rules about controversial tweets apply to him as well, but that assertion is questionable given the Chief Twit's alleged demands that he wanted Twitter's algorithms changed to ensure his tweets were more visible.

We contacted Twitter to get more information about Musk's talk and try to get some actual advertising numbers, and wouldn't you know it - no poop emoji this time. That's not because the company is reaching the end of its teenage years, though: We actually managed to contact an advertising VP at Twitter, and in lieu of a poop emoji we were met with silence. ®

Updated to add

Amusingly, from April 25, Microsoft's ad platform will drop Twitter. "Smart Campaigns with Multi-platform will no longer support Twitter," the Windows giant wrote Wednesday.

That means, according to Redmond, you'll be unable to "access your Twitter account through our social management tool; create and manage drafts or tweets; view past tweets and engagement; [and] schedule tweets" via the software giant's online advertising tools.

"Other social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn will continue to be available," added Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn.

Musk's response was to point a finger at Microsoft and where it got data to train its AI systems: "They trained illegally using Twitter data. Lawsuit time."

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